________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 13 . . . .March 3, 2006


The Cannibals.

Iain Lawrence.
New York, NY: Delacorte Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Ltd), 2005.
230 pp., cloth, $22.95.
ISBN 0-385-73088-8.

Subject Headings:
Adventure and adventures-Fiction.
Ocean travel-Fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.

*** / 4



In that space the sea tumbled and writhed, and up shot geysers of white water.

I rowed for all I was worth, but only with one oar. I spun the boat around.

Too late I’d tried to save us. The sea already had a hold of the boat. It swept us toward the gap, and the sound of the surf grew loud as cannons. Weedle looked as though he were staring at death, and his hand was white on the tiller.

Then we rose on that bulge of water, and for an instant it seemed that all was still and quiet. Higher we went, until we looked over the rocks and into the black-sided basin. I heard the rattling rush of an undertow sucking at pebbles and stones.

“It’s Tom’s fault!” screamed Weedle.

There was nothing that could save us.


Tom Tin has found his father, who happens to be the captain of the slaver ship that is carrying him, as well as 60 other juvenile delinquents, to exile in Van Diemen’s Land. Desperate to escape his sentence of seven years on a distant shore, he and his young friend, Midge, jump overboard. They plan to head to an island that Midge has read about, hoping that Captain Tin will meet them there. As the two friends attempt to find their way “into the book,” they must fend for themselves against the legendary ‘savages’ of the Pacific islands.

     Lawrence’s The Cannibals continues the story of Tom Tin that was begun in The Convicts. More plot-driven than its predecessor, The Cannibals features a suspenseful design that is heightened by each chapter’s cliffhanger ending. Complementing the novel’s energetic plot is the open ending which leaves the audience with anticipation for the third installment in the series.

     This novel features touches of the grotesque, similar to style of the series’ first novel, but The Cannibals is more inventive in its details. For example, after the boys are shipwrecked on an island, they meet an eccentric man, Mullock, who has built an extensive scale model of London: “It was built of stones and seashells, of pebbles and sand. Every building and bridge, every street and steeple were there.” Creative details, such as Mullock’s artistic endeavour, propel the novel’s plot and characters. In the case of Mullock’s scale city, the haziness of some of its details informs Tom of the man’s psyche and his identity: “I was looking into his mind, seeing the clarity of things he knew well, and the vague memories of others. [……] He had known-in truth-just the very parts that a real lord might have known. My opinion of him changed somewhat, and he became even more of a mystery.”

     Although The Cannibals is relatively more plot-driven than The Convicts, Lawrence’s attention to character development remains strong. Tom, in particular, continues to develop his sense of morality as he learns about the power of books, the importance of imagination, and the value of his friendship with Midgeley. As well, he becomes determined to throw off his coddled nature. Intent on proving his bravery to his father, Tom even offers to die in his place:

     By the end of the novel, Tom becomes more comfortable with his identity, which becomes disentangled from that of his dead brother.

“Take me!” I shouted.

“No!” cried Father.

But I shouted again, “Take me!” The savage came right to the cage as I cried out with every curse and oath I’d ever heard.

     It is advisable for young adult readers to read The Convicts before picking up The Cannibals. Although the second novel provides a synopsis of Tom’s previous adventures, the sequel is more likely to be compelling for readers who have a detailed knowledge of Tom’s link with his dead brother. This novel is recommended for adolescent readers who enjoy action-packed historical fiction.


Pam Klassen-Dueck obtained her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees at the University of Manitoba. She has taught Grade 8 and Grade 11 English. Currently, she is enrolled in the pre-M.A. program at the U of M.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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